MERRIMACK — The state Department of Environmental Services will not be asking Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics to temporarily halt operations, despite a request made by local officials last month.
“At present, NHDES does not believe it has a basis or legal authority to require the facility to cease operations,” Robert Scott, DES commissioner, stated in a letter to the town council this week. “To date, Saint-Gobain has cooperated and continues to cooperate with NHDES to meet its investigation and response obligations, and we intend to ensure that this continues.”
Last month, the town council asked that DES require Saint-Gobain to cease operations in light of new data showing continuous perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) contamination at the site, including some that is significantly higher than it was nearly a year ago.
A test sample from the plant in March found 69,500 parts per trillion of PFOA at one groundwater monitoring well, which is up from prior testing in November that calculated 3,300 ppt at the same well — an increase of more than 2,000 percent. The new state regulation is 12 ppt.
“Based on data reviewed by NHDES to date, the substantial increase in PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) concentrations detected in March 2019 in water samples collected from MW-4S appear to be limited to this well and were not observed elsewhere in the onsite monitoring well network,” said Scott.
“While NHDES is always concerned about significant changes in site conditions, it is important to understand that many factors can influence the concentration of contaminants in a single well at any given point in time.”
Town Councillor Peter Albert said recently that local officials understand that the cleanup process doesn’t happen overnight. Still, he said, it has been three years since the contamination was reported and now the data show that it is still there, and in some areas getting worse.
“I don’t know what it is going to take to get some action,” Albert said, adding it is time for citizens to reach out to DES, the Executive Council and the governor.
“We understand that the seemingly slow pace of investigations can be frustrating, but we note that this is a complex site, with significant soil and groundwater contamination,” Scott said in his letter to the council on Tuesday.
He added that DES will continue to require Saint-Gobain to advance and complete its site investigation, leading to the development and implementation of a remedial action plan for the property. The company is also required to design and construct equipment to control its air emissions, conduct expanded drinking water sampling in the impacted areas and provide alternate drinking water to impacted properties.
“NHDES understands and is sympathetic to Merrimack’s concerns about continued threats to groundwater and drinking water contamination. We are working hard every day to address these concerns on many levels,” Scott said.
Town Councilor Nancy Harrington, town councilor, said local officials have been understanding of the complexities of this situation, but stressed recently that the bottom line is to protect Merrimack residents. If DES doesn’t have the authority to shut down Saint-Gobain until it is in compliance, Harrington said earlier, the agency needs to find someone else who has the authority to take that action.
The town council has also reached out to Saint-Gobain directly with its request to temporarily halt operations.
“We continue to work with the state to take action when needed and monitor where appropriate,” Lia LoBello, senior communications manager with Saint-Gobain, said in a recent statement.